What Is a Steam Generator? Definition, Meaning and Concept

A steam generator is equipment designed to convert a liquid, which is usually water, into vapor, called steam. The liquid is heated by burning some type of fuel, such as wood, coal, oil, or natural gas. The change from liquid to vapor creates pressure and then expansion, which can be channeled and directed as a source of energy. Steam pistons were instrumental in the growth of early factories, railway locomotives, steamships, and many other examples of mechanical equipment.

One of the earliest uses of the steam generator was in the steam locomotive. Fuel, in the form of wood or charcoal, was fed into the combustion chamber. The resulting heat was channeled through a system of pipes, which heated water that was stored in a special holding tank. After the temperature reached boiling point, the energy created by the steam powered the pistons, which turned the wheels of the engine. The main purpose of the steam was to propel the train, but it also had other uses, such as operating the brakes and the whistle.

The use of the steam generator to power locomotives was a great improvement in transportation in the early 17th century, but it had its drawbacks. They were accompanied by a great deal of smoke, and there was always the possibility of fires resulting from burning sparks and ash. Also, the tank that held the water had to be closely monitored to make sure the water stayed at a certain level. Allowing the tank to run out of water was extremely dangerous as it could cause a fire or explosion.

Even after fireboxes were removed and diesel became the power source, steam generators were still used on trains. Some of the leftover steam from the original steam locomotive had been sent to the passenger cars to heat the interior and keep the occupants comfortable. When that method was no longer available, special steam generators were added specifically to heat cars. Today, most trains in operation around the world are heated by an electrical system.

A steam generator is also sometimes known as a boiler. The classification of the different types of boilers is generally based on the configuration. For example, the Haycock or pot boiler is shaped like a boiler, and the fire tube boiler is designed in the shape of a barrel with a connecting tube-like structure.